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Basic Income: The Past and the Present

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 405
Hosted By: History of Economics Society
  • Chair: Elizabeth Rhodes, Oakland Basic Income Project

Was Basic Income Invented in Belgium in 1848? Exploring the Origins and Continuing Relevance of a Simple Idea

Guido Erreygers
University of Antwerp


Basic income proposals have a long and interesting history. Two of the earliest, and nearly forgotten, proposals were formulated in Brussels in 1848. One was short, anonymous and written in Dutch; the other long, signed and written in French. As far as we can tell, the two proposals are unrelated: they originated in different circles. In this paper we explore the roots of each proposal, and try to explain why Brussels proved to be a fertile ground for basic income ideas in 1848. In addition, we show that there are striking similarities between these old proposals and the present-day debate on basic income. The similarities refer both to the diagnosis of the problems to be addressed and to the difficulties which have been thought to beset the proposals.

“Scheme for a State Bonus” and the Early Roots of Basic Income in the United Kingdom

Walter Van Trier
Ghent University


In recent years, the prospect of automation has triggered, as it did in the 1970’s and 1980’s, a wide discussion of the proposal to pay every one unconditionally and as of right a so-called ‘Universal Basic Income’. In this paper I will discuss one of the earliest proposals of this kind. The pamphlet detailing the scheme was written by E. Mabel and Dennis Milner, originally presented in May 1918 at the War and Social Order Committee of the Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends and later discussed by trade-unions and the labour party. It can be considered an early, if not the first modern and full blown basic income proposal. Modern, because ‘land’ does not play an important role in the argument – as it did in the works of Paine and Spence – and because of the intention to work through a comprehensive tax-benefit system. Full-blown, because it included a rudimentary attempt to cost the scheme and because it detailed to some extent its form of administration. In this paper I will detail the content and the origins of the Scheme, discuss its reception and point at how ‘Scheme for a State Bonus’ may have been an important root of the notion of a social dividend as found in the writings of G.D.H. Cole or James Meade. I will also point at the similarities between the pro’s and con’s as debated in the early twentieth century and the present discussion.

Basic Income in the European Social Investment Welfare State

Jurgen De Wispelaere
University of Bath & Independent Social Research Foundation


This paper reflects on the recent developments of the basic income debate across Europe with specific reference to the social investment welfare state — a paradigm shift in European welfare reform set out by the Lisbon European Council in 2000 aimed at moving EU social policy towards an active welfare state focused on investing in human capital and labour market participation instead of “passive” benefits. This paper discusses the difficulties faced by the Lisbon agenda and its consequences on employment, poverty and social inclusion. Next, it engages in an in-depth discussion of basic income’s design features, and set out the extent to which these are compatible with the social investment paradigm. Finally, we explore whether design compatibility of basic income with the guiding principles of social investment might explain the recent interest in basic income experimentation by governments fully wedded to the active welfare state. The paper concludes by briefly exploring the implications for the future of the basic income debate and policy development.

Narratives of Change: Contemporary Basic Income Experiments in Four High Income Countries

Evelyn L. Forget
University of Manitoba


Finland, Ontario (Canada) and Oakland (California) embarked on Basic Income (BI) experiments in early 2017 while four cities in the Netherlands were negotiating a similar undertaking and several other jurisdictions have stated their intention to follow suit. The experiments have different designs, different research questions, different formulations of BI and different narrative justifications, yet each of these jurisdictions settled on large, expensive field experiments to examine the potential impact of introducing some form of BI. This paper situates each experiment in political and historical context and compares the “narratives of change” that accompanied the introduction of BI experiments in each jurisdiction.
Robert W. Dimand
Brock University
Edward Teather-Posadas
Colorado State University
Stephenson Strobel
Cornell University
Elizabeth Rhodes
Oakland Basic Income Project
JEL Classifications
  • B0 - General
  • I3 - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty